DJ Babel on the Joys of Junglism, Partying With Tone Loc, and His Acid Jazz Side Project
Local spinster Rodrick Mullins typically performs under the spinster moniker DJ Babel (which is an acronym for Beyond All Beliefs Entertain Life). Frankly, he might as well change his nickname to DJ Jungle Boy, since the 34-year-old has a major yen for wild and chaotic variant of drum 'n' bass.
Mullins has been a hardcore junglist since he first started his DJ career back in the Midwest during the late-1990s. He's stuck with it over the past 15 years and has been spotted at such local venues as School of Rock spinning up heavy-duty jungle and d'n'b beats.
We recently spoke with Mullins about his junglist ways, as well as his other alter ego downtempo/acid jazz solo side project Babelonious Thunk and what it was like to hang out with Tone Loc and Digital Underground at local after-hours party.
Name: Rodrick P. Mullins, making my initials R.P.M., so it was kind of a natural calling to do music...or NASCAR
AKA: DJ Babel/Babelonious Thunk
What's the significance of your nicknames?
[Babel] started as an acronym back in 2001. I use to DJ under the name Alias back in Detroit in the late 90's. [Babelonious] came from a trip-hop project. I'm a big fan of Thelonious Monk, so I kinda took Babel and added it to the first name, while still trying to pay a lil' homage with the last name as Thunk.
Have you performed as Babelonious Thunk?
Not yet, I am still building an EP with that name, and would like to present it when it's complete. I would like to debut him sometime in 2012. So I still do hip-hop, d'n'b, and jungle under Babel. But again, the name is for my more down-tempo/acid jazz fusion work.
How did you get into the DJ game?
An old friend that passed away some years back introduced me to it back in March 1997. The first time I played on his decks I instantly had an overwhelming joy that I could not begin to put in words for you. He was a promoter and messed around with them, but wasn't really serious. He was more of a record collector then anything, always looking for the most rare records he could find. It was not till January 1998 that I would own my first pair of Technics SL-1200's.
What are the preferred genres you spin?
Jump-up d'n'b and ragga jungle with some scratching and cutting and a touch of hip-hop and drumstep. I enjoy really live tunes that make people dance with a kinda constipated look on their faces. It lets me know how dirty the bass lines are for them, like a gnarly bassface or Marty McFly's face when he turned on the speaker and plucked the first chord [in Back to the Future].
Is there a proper way to dance or react to bass-heavy shit?
The proper way is to just enjoy it. My rush is watching people go bananas over a tune or a mix.
What sort of tracks gets people going bananas at your gigs?
Well, I suppose that varies from crowd to crowd. I usually try and keep the party going, so the whomp in heavy doses usually does the trick. I try and keep the bass bins humming and the floor wobbling. The biggest genre at the minute seems to be dubstep, so I try and get a wobble going but at a 175 BPM or half-time.
What are the advantages or disadvantages of working in such tightly focused subgenres?
Well, some of the advantages are the creative minds pushing the same sound and watching barriers being broken in front of your ears. And [it] can help with bookings since you have your own kind of "style."
The disadvantages are the lack of bookings at times. This could be due to the lack of exposure from that specific subgenre. It's kind of on the back burner, and most of the fans are from overseas. It's challenging at times, but I feel strong in what I do and the type of music I do. The feeling of change in the wind seems strong in the junglist/d'n'b community. So I feel that this may be the year that begins a new for these subgenres,
Do only a small amount of EDM fans truly appreciate such tightly focused subgenres?
I think when they first start up, yes. Then it all depends on the next step in its evolution.
Although some never really catch on. So then, that type would have a small but dedicated following.
What's your favorite track of the moment? The Delta Heavy remix of Maverick Sabre's forthcoming single "I Used To Have It All."
What do you dig about junglism?
The culture in its entirety. The music is enchanting to me. It can get me extremely hyped up or can calm me down. Most of the artists that I have had the chance to work with or meet are very humble characters with the same passion and love. The sound, the spirit, and the vibe. It's like a huge tight family. If this world is a jungle, then I am a junglist!
Why do you have such an affinity for bass?
I'm not sure if I could say a spontaneous feeling for bass music. I have been involved in jungle/d'n'b since '99 and my love continues to grow for the genre. I enjoy music that grabs a soul and makes them come out of the shell for a blink of life.
Is junglism an acquired taste?
I suppose. It's kinda like the Guinness of EDM: Heavy, thick, and smooth.
So which artists have grabbed your soul lately?
Anything from Portishead to Taxman and everything in between. If I think I can get away with playing a Fleetwood Mac track with a jungle or d'n'b tune I will make the attempt.
I really dig the sounds that some of the fellas in the M.I.A. crew that are putting tunes out like General Malice and Danny the Wildchild. I'm also digging Serjah 9, Crystal Clear, Zen, Sub Zero, Run Tingz Cru, Callide, and Replicant.
Has the popularity of dubstep increased interest in ancillary genres like drum 'n' bass, jungle, or garage?
I would say yes, at least in the States. A lot of headlining acts are known to play a d'n'b/jungle tune or two in their sets sometimes a few more then that.
What's your opinion on the current overwhelming popularity of EDM?
Mixed...In one hand I am all for it, but on the other hand I enjoy the underground vibe.
Have you benefited?
Yes in some ways, but I still have room to grown as an artist. I have had some solid sales on mix tapes and cd releases but would like to see a larger crowd for jungle/d'n'b and would like to try my luck in the UK circuit.
DJ Babel (left) and Tone Loc at the now-defunct G-Spot in 2007. Watch out for that photobomber!
What's been you're most memorable experience as a DJ?
Performing with Shock G from Digital Underground at an after-hours club. That shit was bonkers! It was a couple years back in Arizona when they performed with Tone Loc and Warren G (the Old School show at a casino). They all came back to my guy's venue and got down afterwards at this "barely legal" venue around 17th Street and McDowell. It was the G-Spot then new owners bought it out and named it The Axe. My guy Virus called and asked if I wanted to bring my tables down to set up and jam. I didn't believe him at first, until tone loc got on the phone. I grabbed my gear and headed straight to the place. It was a superdope night.
Where have you performed as a DJ?
In Arizona, I have played a few raves as well as UK Thursdays for the World of Drum & Bass Tour. Me and my crew MIA (Murda in America) were involved with organizing and playing at Lost in the Jungle with Remarc from the UK at Club Red. Plus a few weeklies here and there. I have played in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, California, and Texas.
Craziest shit you've seen at a gig?
A kid freaked out on something in Illinois and started screaming at people. Then he came up to the DJ that was on before me and tried to mess with the tables. Security grabbed him and escorted him off the stage. It was a little rowdy for a second. [While] at the john at a gig in Eureka a guy tried to shake my hand while we were exporting fluids. That was strange and a little awkward. Although after he apologized and bought me a pint.
Do you have any mantras when it comes to DJing?
I keep the Bass heavy and the Amens tingling. The cuts on point, and the soul grooving.
How much or your work is original artistry and how much is remixing existing songs?
I have only done a few remixes. Most of the tunes I write have been originals. The Babelonious Thunk project is taking it one more step and incorporating live instrumentations. I have a handful of tunes that I fully produced. from recording to mixing and mastering as well as artistry influence.
What do you think of the impression that some wannabes have that learning to DJ is easy? All you need is a laptop and some practice.
Well, I notice that now a days and I understand some using Ableton and other programs that allow a sync. But that sounds artificial to me. I can see an artist that writes music and puts albums out using the software to perform remixes of their own songs on the fly.
But that's about it. I come from a day when being a DJ was a dent in the pocket crazy hours digging in crates and perfecting your craft without YouTube tutorials. If I had 20 dollars for the week and needed food, I would buy two things of top ramen and the rest at the record store.
Anything you'd like to plug?
I have 3 release coming up in the next few months. On Combat Records out of Chicago and Dub Chamber Records out of California. One of the releases is actually for a benefit for another artist with in the jungle community. His daughter has cancer so many artists from the label has pitched in a tune and all the proceeds goes to her fund. And one of the releases is a collaboration track with LA's SICKorWELL and Shane Sickx.
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